The engagement economy

The third section of Book: A Futurist's Manifesto includes a chapter, “The Engagement Economy”, written by Bobby Gruenwald, co-founder of the YouVersion Bible app. At the outset, Gruenwald describes the early, web-based version of what would eventually become a mobile app:

“The idea was to offer an online Bible where people could not only read Scripture, but could also associate and annotate any web media (photos, blog posts, video clips, journaled thoughts, etc.) to a verse or series of verses. Today, the concept of user annotations and user-contributed media doesn’t seem unusual, but the early days of YouVersion predated Google Books, the Kindle, and its analogues. There weren’t examples of people taking literary works and allowing users to annotate them with media and contribute content.”

In launching, an online site, Gruenwald had to both secure rights to use copyrighted translations of the Bible and reassure copyright holders who were nervous about readers annotating their translations. They launched in 2007 but saw only modest initial success, leading them to wonder if the idea was flawed or perhaps ahead of its time.

A test of a mobile version of the site and a subsequent app reversed their fortunes. As Gruenwald notes, “Proximity directly affected engagement.

In the second half of the chapter, Gruenwald offers seven factors that he feels drive engagement with their content. These include:

  1. Social interaction
  2. Personalization
  3. Multi-device, multi-format offers
  4. Gamification (tracking and rewarding progress)
  5. Community contribution
  6. Multiple languages
  7. Personal investments by users

Concluding his chapter, Gruenwald observed:

“Published content used to operate in exclusivity. Publishers and large organizations acted as the gatekeepers to determine whose work had the opportunity to make its way to a larger audience. Now every person with an Internet connection can not only publish, but also build a platform and earn a viable income completely outside of traditional means. It’s naïve to think that publishers can corner the market on content anymore—that’s no longer the opportunity for monetization. When we shift attention to people’s behavior and how they interact with the content, engagement becomes the real product.”

This is an idea I’ve tried to explore here, as well, notably in “The opportunity in abundance” and (more recently) “The library within us”. Although revisiting the gatekeeper theme sometimes seems repetitive, the implications for content creators are far-flung and likely imminent.

About Manifesto: You can now read Gruenwald's chapter online, where it is hosted on the PressBooks site. The complete book can also be purchased in print, digital and bundled formats through O'Reilly Media and in print and digital formats at major book retailing sites. I've noted earlier that the royalties for the book are being used to fund the development of PressBooks, and for that reason I encourage you to consider buying the book.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.